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FEMA Judges Hurricane Damage on Whether or Not the Local Waffle House is Open

You might think that whether or not local business are open might be a decent rule of thumb for making a quick estimation of hurricane damage in a given town. Well, apparently it is, because FEMA uses Waffle House restaurants as one of several ways they get a general feel for how bad damage is. The Waffle House Index has three main points on it. When Waffle Houses are up and running full service, usually the damage isn’t bad at all. If they’re serving a limited menu, it means that there’s some damage, but it’s not horrible. If they’re closed, it means you’ve got a disaster on your hands.

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Waffle Houses are generally found from the mid-Atlantic to Florida, and along the gulf coast. As such, they are right in striking range for hurricanes but have developed some excellent disaster protocols that generally lets them stay open if at all possible. When Katrina hit, Waffle Houses were some of the first places to reopen and serve the legions of hungry citizens. Since then, they’ve embraced their reputation of being invincible.

Waffle House takes its disaster preparation seriously, to the extent of having a post-disaster opening manual, a menu of foods than can be served when the gas stoves work but the electricity is out, and an army of generators. All this has served them well, apparently; a recent academic paper included them among the top 4 companies when considering disaster response strategy, along with Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Home Depot.

While there’s certainly an increased profit margin post-disaster when there are few other options, Waffle House prefers not to discuss the strategy in those terms. Considering that Waffle House does little to no marketing, their post-disaster strategy earns them a lot of good word of mouth and a lot of respect, which is doubtless worth its weight in gas-powered generators.

They always say that cockroaches will survive the nuclear apocalypse. I’d like to amend the statement to be cockroaches and Waffle Houses, but not in the same place.

(via Wall Street Journal)

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